The following is a written interview with Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, with questions posed by Olivia Pridemore, Editor-in-Chief of Silver Needle Press. Alexandra’s poem, “10 Years, 10 Places,” is featured Silver Needle Press Volume 1.
Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana hails from Bradford-on-Avon, near Bath, the U.K. She recited poetry in Eisteddfods growing up and trained with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Alexandra came to writing last year. This year she was shortlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize 2018. Her work has been published in Typishly, Eunoia Review and Snakeskin, and her writing is also being displayed at the Hatton Art Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Alexandra read at Crossings, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Poetry festival, in May 2018, and participated in an offsite reading at AWP hosted by Silver Needle Press, Grist, Nashville Review, and Zone 3.
Alexandra was educated at Oxford University, did a PGCE at the University of East Anglia, and holds a Masters in Japanese Language and Culture, from Sheffield University.
She is currently pursuing a Masters in Writing Poetry, at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Northeast England, where she teaches Humanities to International Foundation Programme students. She spent a decade teaching in Japan, which is often a theme in her writing, and when she is not teaching, reading or writing poetry, she is playing tennis with her ten-year old son.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Bradford-on-Avon, near the Roman city of Bath, in the South West of England.
I was educated at Oxford University and went on to do a teacher training PGCE at the University of East Anglia and a distance learning MA in Japanese Language and Society with Sheffield University. I’m currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing Poetry with Newcastle University in North East England.
I lived and worked in Japan for 10 years, teaching university students. I currently reside in Newcastle, where I teach and study at the University. I have a 10-year-old son and enjoy playing tennis with him and cooking Japanese cuisine.
Describe the journey that led you to literature and writing.
I began reciting poetry at the age of five when I started going to Speech and Drama lessons and taking exams with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. My Dad taught English Literature and Theatre Studies the local high school, so I was always encouraged with my reading and writing, and regularly taken to the Theatre Royal, Bath, and Bristol Old Vic Theatre.
In my current post at Newcastle University I am module leader for Humanities. Literature, including Shakespearian plays and poetry, form a substantial part of the course. I love teaching literature to my cohort of international students, but I also wanted to do something different outside of work. I decided to give poetry writing a go! Since then, I write every chance I get!
Do you write in any other genres?
Not yet. At the moment I am still enjoying the wide variety of poetical forms on offer, and want to focus on honing this craft. However, I have written and published academic papers in the past, and I have always enjoyed tweaking a phrase and the editing process.
What does your writing process look like?
It varies. Sometimes something happens and I find I have an idea at the most inconvenient moment. I can’t switch off in bed, and I find myself sitting up and typing into the Pages app on my phone. Or I’ll be on my way out of the door for the school run, but have to write down an idea first. Sometimes I will be walking and lines will begin to play out in my head. I’ll write them down in a notepad or when I get home.
At other times, an idea will be sort of latent and brewing over several months; it could be a theme or maybe just a single line or title. Suddenly, it will begin to formulate into something coherent ––– it will burst out or I’ll start with a strong rhythm or rhyme and that will drive the idea and the poem forward.
Or, I might be just thinking in silence in a concentrated manner and remember a little flash of something potent from the past ––– a memory I keep returning to, something I need to get out of my system.
Do you have any other creative outlets?
I enjoy performance and sang a lot of karaoke in Japan. I’ve also been involved in musical and pantomime in collaboration with students at Newcastle University.
What are your hobbies outside of academia?
I love travel and visit the Cornish coast in the South West with my son regularly. This year I can’t wait to visit Portland, where I’ll attend the AWP conference. I also like making sushi with organic salmon from the fish market, and drinking good Rioja!
Do you see any common themes in your writing?
Yes, definitely. At the moment it’s largely autobiographical, about the ten-year sojourn in Japan, and I’m working on a sequence relating to that. I almost feel as if I need to get this out before moving on to other topics. Writing about such a different culture seems to lend itself to coming up with concrete images and metaphor. Themes within the overriding theme of Japan are feelings of alienation, suppression of emotion, as well as traditional elements of Japanese culture.
I have also written a few pieces in the persona of my son, his voice, as well as pieces about Motherhood.
You trained with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. How does your experience with performative art impact your creative perspective?
While training as a child, I think I fine-tuned my ears to really appreciate the sound of words. The theoretical side of the study made me aware of the canon of literary devices available to a writer. Entering poetry recitation contests and reading aloud, or performing a dramatic monologue, also gave me firsthand appreciation of how important it is for poetry to be live.
In your bio, you state that you came to writing in the last year. What prompted this transition? How does your perspective (fresh eyes) differ from writers with more extensive training?
It was prompted by a feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo and needing a change of direction in life, a new challenge.
Fresh eyes mean that I am learning a lot and loving the process. It makes me very receptive to experimenting and trying out new voices and poetical forms. It also means that I have a wealth of material and do not yet suffer from writer’s block!
I am keen at the moment to try many different styles and keep developing my voice. I imagine some more experienced writers might find a voice they are comfortable in and perhaps experiment less.
What initially spurred your interest in Japanese, and how does your knowledge of the language manifest itself in your writing.
After moving to Japan in 1996 to teach, I quickly wanted to learn the language to communicate. Knowledge of Japanese words and the kanji pictures they are written down in has helped trigger concrete images and metaphors. For example, I wrote a poem, “tatami” and some of the expressions I used, such as “rice straw core,” to represent Japanese society were partially inspired by the depiction of rice fields as crossed squares within the kanji representing tatami mats. The fact that many Japanese words end in vowel sounds also opens up possibilities for rhyme and musicality in a poem.
How have your MFA classes impacted your style and perspective?
Dramatically. They have introduced me to many different writing techniques, such as strategies for ekphrastic poems and the concept of found poetry, as well as encouraging me to shift perspective in my writing (for instance, from my own voice to that of my son’s). My tutors Jacob Polley, Sinéad Morrissey and Tara Bergin, also take us down routes we might not have gone, through creative writing exercises, and are great at throwing out ideas for us to try.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The international cohorts of students. Their lovely energy and receptive minds. Their excitement. The new perspectives they bring. The cultural diversity of the role.
Are you currently working on any big creative project for the future?
Yes, I am working towards a portfolio of 30 poems for the MA, which will probably be a Japanese sequence. I’ll also be reading a few of my poems at the Newcastle Poetry festival, in May 2019.